UNITY — The first fair was in 1977 in Litchfield, six years after the founding of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association. It was a much smaller event, but it was intent then, just as it is today, on representing efforts to cultivate healthier and more sustainable ways to grow and raise food, build homes and cultivate communities.
Forty-six some odd years later, and MOFGA remains true to its mission to, “advocate for organic agriculture, illuminating its interdependence with a healthy environment, local food production, and thriving communities.”
The nonprofit, now based in Unity, has thrived over the decades, and its annual September fair is a favorite fall gathering, drawing the public from around the state and New England.
MOFGA’s annual celebration of rural living features 1,000-plus exhibitors and speakers, and emphasizes vibrant communities, sustainable living and local economies, while highlighting organic agriculture.
Back in 1977, and still today, fair-goers parked their vehicles (many Saabs, Datsuns and Peugeots then, and many Hondas, Toyotas, Ford and Volvos these days) in the fields and walked to the fairgrounds. But the September grass and skies have not changed: the hay is turning brown and pungent, and the wild flowers are making their last blooms before the first frost.
This past weekend, car models had changed, and license plates were from all over, but still Maine-heavy, and a good number of attendees had been born way after the 1970s.
Still, the feel was the same, with a common delight in cultivating gardens in Maine. It was time to celebrate the harvest; learn about agriculture, animal husbandry, energy innovations and stone work; to see what artists and artisans had been creating and now selling; eating good food; listening to music; engaging with social and environmental activists; and in general, visiting old friends, or just people-watching.
The 2023 fair saw the third highest attendance rate, with a total of 64,162 people gathering in Unity Sept. 22, 23 and 24. On Friday, 20,531 walked through the fair gates; Saturday, 24,906; and Sunday, 18,725.
Last year’s fair, in 2022, recorded the highest attendance ever, with 67,758. The first year, in 1977, approximately 10,000 drove to Litchfield for the inaugural Common Ground Country Fair.
“We feel everything went really smoothly, and we had a great time,” said Rosie Avila, Fair Assistant, on Sept. 26.
This year, the weather cooperated and the fairgrounds, after a summer of plentiful rain, were green and lush. There were lots of bare feet, musicians, wellness practitioners, workshops on various topics, shopping and eating. Vendors were crowded, as they sold everything from loaves of fresh bread to lavender pillows, handcrafted soap, knots of sage or bouquets of Sweet Annie.
MOFGA relies on thousands of volunteers, a planning committee, staff and board members to hold the annual fair, and their commitment shows. The logistics are impressive, with friendly faces everywhere. Waldo County Sheriff’s deputies were efficient and smiling, as they directed the lines of traffic off to the road into the fields of parking. Off in the distance was a row of camping tents, where some fair attendees stayed the weekend.
The 48th annual Common Ground Country Fair will be held at the Common Ground Education Center in Unity September 20, 21 and 22, 2024. The fairgrounds are open Friday and Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.